Orlin Wagner / Associated Press
Saturday, April 22, 2023 | 2 a.m.
This was always going to be an offseason of change for UNLV basketball. The team’s leading scorer graduated, and the transfer portal snatched two other starters, necessitating a severe makeover for a program that hasn’t qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 10 years.
The question was, could coach Kevin Kruger do enough on the recruiting trail to change the team’s fortunes for the better?
Kruger took a big swing and connected this week. UNLV secured commitments from three impact transfers in the span of a few hours Wednesday. Oklahoma forward Jalen Hill, a former Nevada State Player of the Year, is the headliner of the group while twin brothers Kalib Boone (Oklahoma State) and Keylan Boone (Pacific) are both double-figure scorers.
Hill and the Boone twins are all at least 6-foot-7 and bring the kind of positional versatility that Kruger looks for in his recruits. And as fifth-year seniors, they should be physically developed and emotionally mature enough to turn UNLV back into a winner in 2023-24.
With that trio on board, the Scarlet and Gray have transformed into a postseason contender overnight.
“It’s great for us,” Kruger said. “We were very deliberate and particular about who we wanted to add to our group, and I think Keylan and Kalib and Jalen fit that to a T. They just fit exactly the kind of culture that we want to have.”
Kruger described Keylan Boone as a “big-time shooter” who will spread the floor. His brother Kalib is more of a post player; “someone you can throw it to and good things will happen,” Kruger said.
Keylan Boone averaged 13.9 points per game last year and made 41.0% of his 3-point attempts. Kalib did most of his work under the basket, posting 10.6 points and 4.9 rebounds.
As for Hill, Kruger expects the Las Vegas native to be a defensive cornerstone, locking down multiple positions while taking on expanded responsibilities on offense.
“Jalen is incredibly physical and tough,” Kruger said. “An elite defender. But he also stepped up his role offensively and made winning plays throughout his career at OU. We’re going to lean on him a lot for that.”
Hill scored 9.7 points per game last season as a senior at Oklahoma but only averaged 6.7 shot attempts in his 32.7 minutes. Like other underutilized transfers that have come to UNLV before him, he’ll likely see a significant increase in touches and opportunities to score.
Defensively, roles may not be defined until much closer to the season. Last year, Kruger implemented an aggressive, pressure defense that thrived on creating havoc, but it remains to be seen if the new recruits fit that style.
UNLV finished third in the nation in forcing turnovers last year, harassing opponents into 17.3 per contest. While Kruger wants his team to continue defending with that level of intensity, he does anticipate tweaking the system to accommodate the strengths and weaknesses of the newcomers.
“It’s a blend,” Kruger said. “We had some really good defensive stretches last year playing that way, but you don’t want to ask them to do something they’re not comfortable with. We’ve just got to figure out how they can excel at that end.”
Those details can be worked out at a later date. At this point in the offseason, importing talent is the most important task, and UNLV got a big infusion on Wednesday.